October 5

World Teachers’ Day

 

Rutland was rushing to meet the start of his evening class. He made good time, with almost no traffic on the road, but as he drove past the college entrance sign and neared the Administration Tower, he noticed the path ahead was blocked. A row of seven orange traffic cones spanned the highway from curb to curb.

Although night had fallen, the campus streetlamps hadn’t yet turned on. As a result, he couldn’t see far enough down the road to identify any reason for the blockade.

Rutland didn’t have time for this foolishness. He was teaching a class tonight, and was nearly late. He pulled up close to the blockade, then shifted to Park. Leaving his headlights on, he got out of the car and walked to the nearest set of cones. If he moved three out of the way, temporarily, that would give his car enough room to pass. The Forney Lot was only a half-block up to the right, so he could easily slip in there and hustle to his classroom.

With awkward, half-blind movements, he stacked cones inside each other, then dragged them out of the road.

He got back into the car and drove a few feet past his improvised gateway, then shifted back to Park. He opened the door, prepared to replace the cones he’d moved.

The headlights pointed ahead, spotlighting another obstacle in the road.

The reason for the traffic cones.

A body dressed in black, arms and legs splayed, lay on its stomach within the painted lines of the pedestrian crosswalk. No sign of blood, but a lifeless face gaped open-mouthed toward him, eyes wide and unblinking in the headlight beams.

Rutland thought he recognized the young man from a class he taught the previous year. Trevor Something-Or-Other, if he recalled correctly.

He examined the position of the body, which seemed to have achieved an elegant landing after whatever collision had occurred. If Trevor had rolled over the roof of a car, his body kept rolling and spun over the hood and trunk, before a flat bloodless crack somehow deposited him directly into the crosswalk where he’d first been struck. Or, Trevor had crumbled under the grill or bounced to the side, the driver hit-and-running past, leaving the student to flail like a beached fish until the odd breakdance ended with a perfect “X” within the crosswalk lines.

Death by internal injuries, most likely. Even the clothes had been spared any violence. Rather than a collision victim, the student looked more like he’d simply fallen from the sky.

But the body was too far from the Administration Tower to qualify as a suicide jump. Even factoring in a freak wind gust, followed by a wicked roll down the steep hill of the quad, a landing this far from the building seemed impossible.

As Rutland considered other options, he registered the odd quiet of the scene. No sounds of an approaching ambulance or police car. Other than the nearby traffic cones, nothing around the body indicated any official response to the tragedy.

Then he noticed two strange rocks, set back slightly from Trevor’s feet and at the outer halo of the left headlight beam. An odd series of parallel grooves segmented each rock, with pronounced bumps at the top of each section.

A jeweled glint shone from one of the segments. Rutland blinked, realized he was looking at the gemstone in a ring. The rocks were clenched fists, sticking out the black cuffs of a long-sleeve T-shirt.

The fists belonged to another black-garbed victim who lay behind Trevor, half on the street and half over the curb. He squinted in the dark and saw the shadowy outline of a girl’s legs across the cement sidewalk.

Behind those legs lay yet another body. Behind that, another. And possibly a fifth, though Rutland couldn’t see well enough in the evening dark.

He glanced in the other direction and squinted, recognizing the soles of tennis shoes near the first victim’s head. If the pattern continued, a line of bodies began on one side of the campus, spanned the road, then snaked outside the illumination of his headlights toward the hill of the main quad.

 

 

[…continued tomorrow…]